Why your IT team needs to be involved during a merger

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Is your company buying another business or, perhaps, being acquired by another organization? To avoid expensive mistakes and lengthy delays, make sure that the IT departments are communicating with each other during this process (and as soon as possible). When you buy another company it's essential to remember that  you’re buying the whole business. From the buildings and the employees, to the intellectual property and brand, along with any debts and public opinions about that company. To put it simply, you’re buying the way this organization does business. You’re also buying the IT that comes along with it. If you don’t know what that is, how it works, how it’s controlled or how much it costs, you could end up with some expensive problems. Buying a company with badly run IT can cost you money. Here are some key things to note before diving in:
  • How old are the desktops and laptops and servers you’ll be taking over?
  • Are they still running supported operating systems?
  • What email system do they use?
  • What desktop software will you need to support, and is it correctly licenced?
  • How much of that software do you have expertise in?
  • Are there maintenance contracts for the hardware and software assurance or support contracts for the operating systems and applications?
Auditing the IT department’s assets, along with the governance situation, could mean the difference between a profitable merger and a liability. Take, for example, the time that Equitrac bought Control Systems. nQueue filed a patent infringement suit against Control Systems; it wasn’t clear whether it counted as an affiliate  allowed to use the products Equitrac had licenced from nQueue. This would have been much cheaper to sort out before the acquisition went through, rather than the lengthy court case that ensued. And having a handle on the expense of licenses may have even made a difference in the decision to acquire the company. But the costs go beyond software licences and hardware contracts. There’s a key question of integration: How easy will it be to make their IT systems work with yours? Will it be more expensive to support your new users than it is the ones who already work in your company? Again, it’s a question of performing an audit. What help desk system do they use? Do they have the same management tools, or a system you can work with? Bringing System Center and Intune together is easier than trying to get control of an ad hoc system based on batch files and scripts. If you’re buying a much smaller company, it may not have any management systems in place. If it’s a large company, does it have an Active Directory you’ll need to federate with or bring into your forest? Do the user groups for policy map well to the groups you have? Even if it's a perfect match, it’s unlikely all the policies are the same, so you’ll need to plan for the transition. Continuity is vital to ensure you start getting value out of the business as quickly as possible. You need to know crucial details, like where files are stored and which cloud services are used within the business, so any deals or projects in progress don’t get held up. If you move files or change permissions, and an executive about to give a presentation to a major customer can’t access their files in the meeting, bringing the two companies together will be even more difficult. There are important security questions, as well. What security software is in place on desktops and laptops, and how is it managed? Can you see who is up-to-date and protected and which departments are out of compliance? You don’t want to take on a security liability of unpatched servers the week before a major vulnerability is discovered. Don’t forget backup and disaster recovery either; that's bound to be done differently. Making the transition as painless as possible means understanding more than just the technology. You also need to be aware of the company's culture. Do employees use the intranet and the file shares or is there a lot of shadow IT with key files copied onto USB sticks, saved in personal cloud storage or shared through personal email accounts? Is there a self-service password reset system or do employees phone the support desk? Unless you know everything about the IT of your new subsidiary and how it's used, you can’t tell how much a merger or acquisition will actually cost over and above the purchase price. So, if there are deals going on, IT needs to be involved straight away, and not just in setting up a secure location where M&A files can be shared.

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Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe has been a technology journalist for over two decades, and she’s been the formal or informal IT admin for most of the offices she’s worked in along the way. She was delighted to see the back of Netware 3.11, witnessed the AOL meltdown first-hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and has been a freelance tech writer ever since. She's used every version of Windows (client and server) and Office released, and every smartphone too. Her favourite programming language is Prolog, giving her a soft spot for Desired State Configuration in PowerShell 4. And yes, she really does wear USB earrings. Find her on Twitter @marypcbuk.